Proofreading Course: What is Copyright?


Our proofreading course explains the laws a copy editor should be aware of, and how to apply them to a range of situations.

Authors often need to use other people’s material in articles that they write. This may be taken from a website, book or magazine, or from a speech or interview.

Everything that they “lift” is someone else’s copyright; in other words, it is someone else’s property.

That does not mean the author cannot use it. But, it is important to have a good working knowledge of UK copyright laws so that copy editors know what authors can, or cannot, do safely.

A copy editor needs to be vigilant when working on jobs where the author has used other people’s material, such as:

  • Photos.
  • Logos.
  • Graphics.
  • Artwork.
  • Text.

What is copyright?

The act governing copyright in this country is the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (CDPA 1988). This act has been amended several times by European Union directives.

Copyright covers the products of people’s skill, labour, creativity and time.

There is no copyright on ideas. They have to be expressed before copyright exists.

Work must be “fixed” in order for copyright to apply, that is, written down, recorded, filmed, put onto a PC, photographed, etc.

Copyright means ownership of the following types of work:

  • Literary: this includes stories, features, newspapers and magazines and the writing that goes into them.
  • Dramatic: something capable of being performed.
  • Musical.
  • Artistic: this includes photos, graphics, maps, drawings, etc. It is a breach of copyright to publish without permission all or part of such works. This is true even if they are adapted to create a new sketch to illustrate a new document.
  • Sound recordings.
  • Films.
  • Broadcast: this includes material placed on the internet. Web publications are defined as “communications with the public”.
  • Cable programmes.
  • Typographical arrangements of published editions: this refers to the way a particular magazine or newspaper looks.

Copyright does not apply if the work does not fall into one of the above categories.

Copyright is described as “intellectual property” and, like other items of property, it can be sold, given away, bequeathed, split up or retained.

Copyright is usually owned by the creator of an original work, unless or until they sell it to someone else.

For copyright to change hands, an agreement must be signed in writing.

It is a criminal offence to reproduce copyright material from one website onto another if you know or had reason to believe the work was copyrighted.

Copyright in Britain and the EU starts from when the work is first created. It lasts 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the originator of the work dies (no matter who owns the copyright).

If there is a dispute, the onus is on any copyright owner to prove that the work is original.

Copyright in the UK does not have to be registered. It applies automatically.

UK copyright laws are generally recognised throughout the EU, US and other countries.

See our proofreading course